Sides by Side!

Whether it’s the weekend or Wednesday, a little indulgence is always nice & doesn’t need to be extravagant.  Sometimes it’s the little things that bring the most joy & that includes a plate of satisfying comfort food.

When a delicious main course is centre stage, it usually requires a couple of supporting acts.  All the best ones do – fish & chips, bacon & eggs, spaghetti & meatballs (the list is endless).  Burgers always require a good bun, but they also need some serious sidekicks like crispy coated onion rings & deliciously chunky chips.  These two sides are a well-loved staple in our household & with good reason.

Firstly, the chunky chips (fondly known by our family as Aimée Chips) accompany everything from fish fingers to roast chicken.  They are ridiculously easy & totally faff-free – chop them up & chuck them in the tin kind of cooking.

Secondly, there are crispy light onion rings that literally melt in the mouth.  These oh-so-delicate flavoursome delicacies are perfectly light & crisp, tasting much naughtier than they actually are.  Before you start worrying about chips & onion rings being deep fried or not very healthy, the best bit is … there’s no frying required because they’re all baked!  That also means no hot pans to stand & watch (because nobody has the time for all that).

Ready to bake it happen?  Starting with my Aimée Chips!  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

6-8 medium Potatoes (nothing fancy, whatever you’ve got is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Coarse Semolina Flour

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & get a large roasting tin to cook the chips in.

Wash & dry your potatoes well, leaving the skins on.  Cut them into thick wedges.  Don’t worry about them being exact-sized, just make them at least the thickness of your thumb.  Place them all into a roasting tin.

Drizzle well with the olive oil, then dust with a good pinch each of black pepper & sea salt, about a quarter teaspoon.  Tip: if you’re preparing these in advance, do not add the salt until you are ready to cook them.  The salt will make them rock hard & no amount of cooking will soften them up.

Sprinkle the coarse semolina flour over the chips, shaking everything around to coat them thoroughly.  Place each potato wedge skin-side down in the tin (this helps stop them sticking to the tin, as they’re curved & touching less surface area – little bit of science-y stuff there).

Bake in the centre of the oven at 220*C for about 20-25 minutes, giving them a shake half-way through.  When they’re crispy & deeply golden, remove the tin from the oven & place on a rack.  To keep them warm, place another baking tray loosely over the top (leave a gap to allow steam to escape) & then reheat just before serving for about 5 minutes in a hot oven.

Onto those deliciously delectable onion rings!  No frying pan required, just a large baking tray & a little baking magic.  Hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 large Brown/Spanish Onions
2 large Free Range Eggs
4oz Plain Flour
2 tablespoons Greek or Natural Yoghurt (full fat or 0% fat is fine)
Sea Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C.  Prepare a large baking tray – line with a sheet of greaseproof paper.  I use Bacofoil Non-Stick Baking Paper for this (it’s strong & textured, so stands up to the heat without disintegrating).  You don’t need to use it, but it stops your onion rings from sticking to the tin & means you use less oil.

Prepare your onions – remove the tops & tails, take off the outer papery skins & cut into thick chunky slices.

Pop out the centres, then each inner onion ring, being careful not to break them.  Place them onto a plate or board & set aside.  The tiny chunky centres can be saved for another day – simple chop them into pieces, spread onto a tray & freeze for 10 minutes.  Once frozen, tip them all into an airtight bag & pop back in the freezer – no big lumps of onion this way & no waste!

Tip the flour into a shallow dish & season with a little salt & pepper.  Give it a good stir to mix well.

In another shallow dish, crack the eggs & add the Greek Yoghurt, along with a little salt & pepper again.  Give it a good whisk with a fork to break up the eggs & blend into a thick, gloopy liquid.

Take an onion ring, coating it in the yoghurt & egg mixture all over, inside & out.  Shake off the excess & drop into the flour.  Coat well, again making sure you cover the inside too.  Don’t worry if the flour goes lumpy, that’s fine.  Lift the onion ring out, shake off the excess flour & pop onto the baking tray.

Repeat this until all the onion rings have been dipped & dunked in egg & flour.  Place them all next to each other on the baking tray & don’t worry about them touching too much.

Drizzle olive oil all over the onion rings (don’t bathe it, just a light drizzle is fine) & bake in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, turning them over halfway through cooking.

Once they’re crispy & bronzed, carefully remove the onion rings from the tray using a fork or tongs & place onto a cooling rack with a bit of greaseproof paper underneath (just in case there are any oily drips).

Remember to pop your chunky chips back in the oven for a few minutes to warm up (remove the baking tray from the top) & that’s it, they’re all done!   

Perfect piled up next to a beautiful burger or simply stacked up as a savoury snack, these crispy baked beauties are delicious sides by side anytime!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

Flaky Pastry Pasties!

It’s this time of year that always seems magical.  Trees have an abundance of Autumnal  toned leaves, as they tumble around like confetti on the breeze, swooning in swathes wherever they land.  Late blooming flowers appear, their vibrant blossoms adding some freshness to the greenery that remains.  Although it’s November, the sun shines just as brightly as in earlier months, spilling spectacular shades across the skies as it arrives & departs each day.

It’s also a great time of year for those comforting dishes, the ones that really hit the spot when you need it.  Sumptuously slow-cooked stews, deeply filled fruit pies & crisp flaky pastries.  We all have our favourites, especially those childhood dishes that evoke fond memories of deliciousness.   The mere mention of puff pastry takes me to a stool in my Mum’s kitchen, watching her create all kinds of pastry treats & especially savoury pasties.  She would make shortcrust pastry ones, filled with her heavenly homemade stew (our version of a Cornish pasty).  Leftovers would be lovingly wrapped in fabulously flaky pastry parcels, deliciously warm & comforting.  And then there were my favourites – crisp buttery puff pastry packed with mashed potatoes, cheese & onion.  There would always be some mashed potatoes leftover from the previous night’s dinner, just enough to make a few pasties for lunch the next day.

Now you all know that I prefer homemade puff pastry (all butter & no unnecessary ingredients!), but we don’t always have the time.  This recipe is one that was passed on to me & one I make often for both savoury & sweet treats.  It’s a faster flaky pastry with all the buttery crispness of puff pastry, but takes much less time to make.  Also, don’t worry about special pastry cutters or equipment.  All you need is a small side plate or saucer & a sharp knife.  You should get eight good sized pasties from this recipe, so plenty to go around.  Ready to bake it happen?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

For the Pastry:
8oz Self-Raising Flour (plus additional for dusting your worktop)
5oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge or at least chilled so it’s firm
100ml Cold Water
1 large Egg, beaten (for glazing the pasties)
1/2oz  Melted Butter (for the tin)

For the Filling:
Approx. 8oz Potatoes, peeled & chopped into small chunks
1 tablespoon Semi-Skimmed Milk
1/2 a teaspoon Sea Salt
2oz Butter
4oz Cheese, grated (I use whatever I have in the fridge)
1 medium Red Onion, finely chopped
Freshly ground Black Pepper & a little Sea Salt
Fresh Thyme leaves (just a couple of sprigs)

What to do:

First, let’s make the pastry.  Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.  Cut the butter into small pieces, dropping them directly into the flour.

Using your fingertips, rub the butter chunks into the flour a little – we don’t want it like fine breadcrumbs, more like a rough rubble texture with plenty of lumps.  This is just breaking down the butter a bit to make rolling easier.

Using a round ended knife, stir the water into the flour mixture to form a soft dough – the bowl should be clean when you’ve finished.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rough rectangle.  Dust your rolling pin to stop it sticking & roll out the pastry until about half a centimetre thick.

Fold into thirds (fold one end into the middle, then the other over the top), turn it 90 degrees, then roll again (remember to re-dust your work surface to stop it sticking).  Repeat this once more, then very loosely wrap in a sheet of greaseproof paper & place in the fridge for about 15 minutes or so.  This will allow it to rest & the layers to form.

While the pastry is resting, make the mashed potatoes.  Fill the kettle with water & put it on to boil.  Cut the potatoes into small chunks, about a centimetre (this will help them cook faster) & chuck in a deep saucepan.

Add the sea salt & carefully tip on the boiling water from the kettle (no standing around waiting for the pan to heat up), just enough water to cover the potatoes.  Put the lid on & simmer for about 8-10 minutes, until soft enough to cut easily.  Drain well into a colander over the sink.  Give the empty pan a quick wipe with a cloth to remove any moisture, then tip the potatoes back into the pan, ready for mashing.

Add the semi-skimmed milk & butter, then get mashing!  It’s up to you how mashed you want them (personally, I prefer a bit of texture to my mash & always use a manual hand-held masher).  Leave to cool with the lid off (don’t be tempted to put the lid on, as it forms condensation & you’ll end up with watery spuds).

While the mash is cooling, pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your baking tray.  Line it with a sheet of greaseproof paper, lightly brushed with the melted butter (the butter will add colour & crispness to the underside of the pasties as they bake).

Add the finely chopped onions & grated cheese to the potatoes, along with a little seasoning & a sprinkling of Thyme leaves.  Give everything a good stir & have a quick taste to make sure you’re happy with the filling (this takes restraint, because I could just eat it from the pan at this stage).  Set aside.

By now, your pastry will be ready to roll.  Lightly flour your work surface & rolling pin, then roll out the pastry to about half a centimetre in thickness.  Make sure it’s nice & even, but don’t worry about being too precise.

Place your saucer or plate on the pastry, cutting neatly around the edge & repeat until you have cut out as many as you can.  Where you have leftover pieces of pastry, place them on top of each other, reshape & roll out again.  Sometimes, I’ll just shape these last ones with my fingers rather than cutting them out again (trust me, it will all be fine once they’re baked).

Take one of the circles & roll lightly from top to bottom, to make a more oval shape.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of the potato mixture onto the lower half of the pastry, leaving about a centimetre edge of pastry uncovered.  Repeat until you have all your pasties made.

Brush a little beaten egg around the edge of the pastry & fold the top half of the pastry over, pressing the edges together to seal in your filling.  From one corner of the pasty, gradually squish the edges together to form a crust, finishing at the other corner.  Lift onto your prepared baking tray, prick holes with a fork in the top.  Repeat this step, until you have all your pasties made.

Brush them well with the beaten egg & sprinkle on a little black pepper (or grated cheese if you like).  Bake in the centre of the oven for about 25-30 minutes until gorgeously golden topped & piping hot.

Place on a cooling rack for a few minutes – even if you’re eating them warm, they will be like the surface of the sun right now & melt your mouth.  While they’re cooling a little, grab a few crisp salad leaves or some chunky chips (or both), pile them on a plate & tuck in!

Fabulously flaky pastry, filled with fluffy cheesy potatoes & crisp red onion, these delicious savoury pasties are perfect for a light lunch or lazy supper.  If you do have any leftover pasties, they can be frozen once completely cooled & reheated when you fancy one (pop them in the oven at 200*C, for about 15-20 minutes until piping hot again).

These delicious pasties also make fabulous flaky finger-foods, great for picnics & parties – just make smaller nibble-sized ones & add a spicy tomato dip for dunking!  I use my tomato sauce recipe for meatballs & add a pinch of cayenne to give it a kick (recipe link here: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/having-a-ball/).   Next time you have a cheesy comfort food craving, try my easy cheesy mashed potato pasties!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty & the Baste

We’re almost there & as the big day draws near, gifts have been wrapped, greeting cards are written & parcels delivered.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have most of your Christmas cooking prepared by now too (well done you!).  This part is all about the main event: a beautifully basted bird, & whether you prefer turkey, chicken or something else completely, you want it to be perfect.  It’s like a spectacular Sunday lunch, only with more people (& more wine).  Whether you’re having a full-on festive feast or not, everyone will be looking forward to spending a few days with their family & friends.

In the past, I have regularly cooked Christmas dinner for around 10-20 people (what was I thinking?!), including a turkey the size of a pterodactyl (it was a bit of a beast & needed two people to wedge it into the oven), along with joints of beef, pork & Quorn, plus a glazed gammon joint & various crates of veg – this involved several days, two kitchens & a bottle of Sherry!  Despite all the chaos, dinner would be done & I somehow managed to keep smiling – it’s a bit like being a swan on a pond, all calm & graceful on the top, but paddling like mad under the water!

Because we don’t eat turkey these days (nor do I try to feed the 5,000 anymore), I cook a large chicken on Christmas Day instead, but this method works equally well with a turkey too (probably not one the size of a pterodactyl though!).  For turkey cooking times, here’s a link I found to help you calculate cooking times (there are others, this was the first one I found):  https://www.safefood.net/turkey-calculator

The way I roast a chicken is actually quite easy & you don’t really need to prep the bird until Christmas morning.  You could do this just before bedtime on Christmas Eve if you really want to get a head start, just don’t add the salt or the water until you’re ready to roast.

One thing I always recommend is to get yourself some decent roasting tins!  Forget the non-stick ones – I learned the hard way that no matter how expensive they are or fabulous the guarantee is, that stuff eventually comes off on your food.  Save yourself some hassle & invest in some good, plain stainless steel ones – you don’t need to spend a fortune either, just check they are well-made & solid.  Hands washed, aprons on & let’s get started!

You will need:

1 fresh Chicken, without giblets (to feed four, I use about 1.5kg size)
(standard cooking times for Chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, although I tend to cook it longer by my method)

2-3 medium/large Carrots
2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner ones with leaves on top
1 large Onion or 2 smaller/medium Onions
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
A glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: 6-10 rashers Streaky Bacon (smoked or unsmoked)

Stuffing:  either Fresh Herbs – a handful of Thyme, a couple of sprigs of Rosemary & a few Sage leaves are plenty;
Or:
Homemade Sage & Onion Stuffing (see my previous blog http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bit-on-the-side/)

What you do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Before handling your bird, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them to avoid any cross-contamination – there’s a lot of hand washing, because you don’t want people to remember your Christmas dinner for all the wrong reasons!

Take the chicken out of it’s wrapper & most importantly: do not wash it!  Trust me, no bacteria will survive in a 200*C oven – the temperature require to kill E.coli & Salmonella is 70*C (160*F), so panic ye not people!

Remove any elastic or ties & pop the chicken legs out of their sockets, allowing the chicken to cook evenly.  To do this, hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.  Place the chicken in the roasting tin & wash your hands thoroughly again.

Wash the carrots & celery, then chop roughly into 3 inch long pieces & arrange around the chicken.  The reason we clean the veg is because you’ll be using the stock for gravy & you don’t want any mud or grit in it.  Cut the onion into half (leave the skin on if clean), or quarters if it’s a large one, putting the pieces in the corners of the tin.

Next you need to fill the cavity of the chicken – again, this helps the chicken cook evenly & it also flavours it nicely too.  There are various fillings you can use, but ultimately it’s down to personal choice – some people prefer traditional sage & onion stuffing, some prefer using a few fresh herbs & vegetables.  If you made some of my homemade sage & onion stuffing for this, simply spoon it into the cavity until full.  If you prefer your stuffing separate, bundle together a couple of thin carrot & celery sticks with the leaves on, along with the herbs (saving a couple of Sage leaves) & put inside the chicken cavity.

If you’re using bacon, layer your bacon rashers across the chicken breast, starting at the top & working your way down, with each rasher overlapping the previous one.  This is good if the skin has split on your chicken – it will keep your breast meat moist & the bacon will crisp up nicely at the end of cooking.  Wash your hands well again afterwards (they’ll be sparkling by now!).

Pour about three pints of cold water around the edge of the chicken (be careful not to splash), then drizzle some olive oil over the whole bird & legs, sprinkle a good teaspoonful of ground sea salt & black pepper over the top.   Rip up the rest of the Sage leaves, along with any Thyme & Rosemary leaves that fell off, then sprinkle them around the roasting tin.

Next, make a foil dome to go over the top of your roasting tin & capture all those lovely steamy juices.  This is the science bit that is going to save you time & effort: as the moisture heats up, the steam vapour rises to the top of the foil dome, condenses & drips onto the chicken, basting the bird so you don’t have to!  No more opening the oven every half hour to baste your bird & effectively let all the goodness escape the oven (including the heat!), nor are you going to end up with burned fingers or splashing your arms with meat juices.

Lay a couple of equal sized foil strips on top of each other, with the dull sides on the inside (the side that goes next to the chicken), then fold the top over about a centimetre all the way along.  Do this a couple of times, then mash them together well to make sure they don’t come undone in the oven. If you have a larger sheet of foil, just put a crease or fold in the middle, leaving the central part un-creased.  Put over the tin, making sure it forms a dome over the top & doesn’t touch the chicken, then press firmly around the edges of the tin so that none of that lovely steam can escape.  This is what makes your stock, infusing with the bird & veg to produce a fragrant, flavoursome fluid for making gorgeous gravy later.

Put your foiled roasting tin in the lower part of the oven & leave it there for at about two & a half to three hours – you don’t need to be too precise here, but if it’s a larger chicken than the size I have mentioned, I just add another half hour on (check the British Turkey link I mentioned before for weights & times, if you’re not sure).  As I mentioned above, standard cooking times for chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, however I tend to cook it longer by my method.

Once it’s cooked, take the roasting tin out of the oven, remove the foil (keep to one side) & check your chicken.  Take a metal skewer or a small sharp knife, poke it into the thicker part of the chicken & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked.  To crisp up the bacon & skin a bit, strain most of the liquid into a large saucepan (keep this for later), leave the foil off the bird & give it another five minutes in the oven.

When you’re happy that it’s crisped enough, remove your roasting tin from the oven & place on a cooling rack (I use a grill tray with a wire rack in it for this, to catch any drips).  Replace the foil lid & seal around the tin to protect the meat from drying out, then let it rest for at least half an hour.  By resting the bird, the meat relaxes nicely & becomes beautifully tender.  Traditionally, you should let the bird rest for the same amount of time it was in the oven, but I leave it as long as it takes to cook the accompanying side dishes.

Just before serving, transfer the chicken carefully onto a large serving plate, ready for carving (you’ll find the meat will fall off the bone easily, so you might not need to do much carving at all!).

If you’re making pigs-in-blankets, do these now – they take minutes & use up any extra bits of streaky bacon.  Simply roll short bacon strips around chunky chipolata sausages, straight or diagonally, then pop them onto a baking tray (you don’t need any oil – the fat in both of them will render out onto the tray, giving sufficient grease).  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until crispy & bronzed, giving them a little shake halfway through.

If you’ve been following my previous blogs, this is where you grab a well-deserved glass of something nice, give yourself a pat on the back & relax, because all your sides will be prepared!  Just pop them in ovenproof dishes, then warm them through in the oven while your roasties cook (bet you’re glad you did all that prep now!).  Obviously, this is also when you tell everyone else to keep out of the kitchen while you’re working hard (on your G&T hopefully) & send them off to set tables, find tablecloths, fill glasses – anything to keep them busy & give you a five minute breather.

Feeling a bit refreshed?  Good!  Right, back to work (briefly anyway) – it’s gravy making time!  If you have pre-prepared your gravy, simply pour it into a saucepan & gently warm through, before transferring to a gravy boat or jug.  If you are making it from scratch, here’s a refresher of what to do.  Grab a whisk & saucepan!

What you need:

1 pint of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 heaped teaspoons of Gravy Browning (such as Bisto powder)
A good glug of cold water (about 3 tablespoons)

What to do:

Using the fresh, hot stock from your roasted bird, simply ladle off a pint into a jug (keep the rest in the pan, put the lid on & leave to cool, then freeze).  To remove any fat from the stock (that’s the golden bubbles you can see here), get yourself a few sheets of kitchen paper & touch it gently on the top – the grease will attach itself to the paper, which you can then throw away (no faffing around trying to separate it).

In another jug, measure your gravy browning (I’ve used Bisto for years, so just use whatever you like best).  You don’t need any seasoning, because there’s plenty in the gravy browning & also in your stock.

Pour in the cold water & mix to form a smooth brown liquid, followed by a quarter of the stock, then tip into your saucepan & heat gently for a few seconds, using the whisk to mix everything thoroughly.

Add the rest of the hot stock carefully & keep whisking gently to prevent lumps forming.  The gravy will begin to thicken up nicely now, so dip a spoon in & if it coats the back of the spoon, it’s ready.

Pour into a gravy boat or a jug & that’s the gravy done!   Enlist a Little Helper to put it on the table, with a plate or saucer underneath (to catch the drips & save your table).

When everything is ready & you’re happy with it, get your Little Helpers in to distribute dishes to the table (maybe have some extra treats to reward them for their support).

That’s it!  Your festive feast is ready, everything is done & you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work.  Whatever you’re doing, whomever you’re with, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas & a fabulous New Year from my family to yours!  Stay hungry 😉  Aimee x

 

A Bit on the Side

Weeks before writing this, I was already thinking about what fabulous foods to make for Christmas Day & what I could do beforehand.  By the end of November, I had already chopped, mashed & stashed an array of side dishes in readiness, cramming pots of fluffy potatoes, gorgeous gravy & cauliflower cheesiness into my freezer.  Most of us work & don’t have the time to faff around in the kitchen, so a bit of prep now will make all the difference.  It’s like giving yourself the gift of time!   Because I’m covering a few things here, you will need some strong coffee to keep you going & a few Little Helpers to share the load (bribes at the ready if necessary!).

If you have been following my blog, you will know I like to keep a supply of freezer-friendly food (here’s the link for speed:  http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/freezing-your-assets/ ) & Christmas is no exception.  A week or two before, I make a mountain of mashed potatoes & a giant cauliflower cheese (sometimes with broccoli), then freeze them in two-person portions (for the recipe, click on this link to my blog: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/super-cauli-flower-cheese-ness/).  If you want your mash to look fancy, pipe into swirls on greaseproof paper before freezing (let it cool first though) & reheat when you want them!  The only spuds you need to cook on Christmas Day will be roasts & maybe some steamed baby potatoes (because there’s always someone who won’t eat mash or roasts).  These can be cooked along with the veg, cutting down on pans to watch & wash, & hunting for that ever elusive potato masher!

The freezer is also bulging with breadcrumbs – if a crust is going spare, it gets blitzed in the blender & bagged up (I can’t waste them & the birds are so well-fed in the garden, the trees are leaning!).  Normally, I use these for coating chicken goujons or kievs, along with stuffing mushrooms or making arancini from leftover risotto, but they are also the main ingredient in stuffing.

Whilst I appreciate that some lovely person invented packet mix stuffing, if you’re serving anyone who is vegetarian or vegan then you need to check the box first.  Most contain suet, which is either beef fat (& needs baking in the oven once rehydrated), or made from palm oil – it might be vegetarian but it’s not very ethical in my book!  When I was a vegetarian, shop-bought stuffing went off my list completely & I started making my own from scratch.  It’s so simple, you can make it in advance & freeze it until you need it!  If you prefer it inside the bird, just make your stuffing the day before, cover it & leave in the fridge.  Depending on the size of your dinner party or the size of your bird, just increase quantities as required (I say “bird” because not everyone eats turkey, my family included, as we prefer chicken).  Hands washed, aprons on & here goes!

What you need:

6 thick slices or crusts of Bread, blitzed in a blender (keep them chunky, not too fine)
1 large Onion, finely chopped
1oz Salted Butter
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 heaped tablespoon of Sage (I used fresh but you can use dried)
1 heaped teaspoon of dried Rosemary
Pinch of fresh Thyme (this is strong so you only need a bit)
Quarter of a pint of boiling water (you might not need all of this)
Seasoning to taste (freshly ground Black Pepper & Sea Salt)
[Optional: a teaspoon of Lemon Zest or a tablespoon of chopped roasted Chestnuts or Walnuts)

What to do:

Melt the butter & oil together in a large frying pan or skillet.

Chop the onion finely & add to the butter & oil, stirring well to ensure it’s completely coated.  Stir fry on a medium heat for a couple of minutes until softened & starting to colour slightly (don’t leave them, otherwise they will catch & burn).  Turn off the pan.

Sprinkle the Sage & Rosemary into the pan with a pinch of Thyme, add the breadcrumbs & stir well.  The residual heat from the pan will bring everything together nicely, so just mix well.  Season with a little sea salt & black pepper, stirring well again.  If you’re adding the roasted chopped chestnuts or lemon zest, do this now.

Add a little of the boiling water, drizzling it around the pan & stirring to bring it all together into clumps.  If it’s too dry, add a little more water & stir again.  Once you feel the consistency is right, stop.  It should be firm, not soggy.  If you think it’s too soggy, add more breadcrumbs until firmer.

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C & if you’re making stuffing balls, lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray.  If you’re baking it in a dish, butter the inside of a casserole dish, scoop the stuffing mixture in & use a fork to make rough peaks on the top (these bits will go crispy when it bakes).

If you’re making stuffing balls, get yourself an ice-cream scoop (spring-loaded will make your life easier & will also ensure they are all roughly the same size).  Put some of the mixture into the ice-cream scoop (you don’t want to damage your pan by scraping it!) & press it in gently.  Release the ball from the scoop, shape it into a nice sized ball in your hand & place on the greaseproof paper.  Repeat until you’ve used the whole lot.

Bake your stuffing (whatever shape you make) in the centre of the oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown on top, turning halfway.  Once cooked, either serve immediately with your roast dinner, or place on a cooling rack (still on the greaseproof paper) & leave to cool completely.  These can then be frozen & reheated on the day you want them.  That’s the stuffing stuffed!

Next, it’s time to sort out some sides & as most of these are already done by the time Christmas arrives, there’s not that much to do on the actual day.  A few days before, enlist your Little Helpers (or “Side”-Kicks?!  *groan*) then go to your local Wilkinson or Poundshop, buy a couple of speed peelers & delegate a bag of veg to each person with one of these little numbers.  Put some Christmas tunes on to get everyone in the mood (or some AC/DC, whatever floats your boat), get them all around the table & off they go!  They can peel & prep, you can pretty much leave them to it & get on with anything else that needs doing.

A firm favourite of ours is roasted baby potatoes in their skins, along with roasted carrots & parsnips.  Just prep as much veg as you need, according to the number of guests you’re expecting & leave to soak in a pan of cold water until required.  Big tip here: don’t put any salt in the water, because no amount of cooking will make them soft & you’ll have rock hard roasties instead.  Clean hands & aprons on!

What to do:

On a chopping board, cut the potatoes in half lengthways.  If you want to give them a bit more texture, cut little slices in the curved top all the way along (hasselback style) to almost halfway through – don’t go all the way though, otherwise you’ll just have thin slices of potato!  Cut the parsnips & carrots into chunky wedges, in a similar size as the potatoes – they can all go on the same tray (less washing up!).  If you’re not cooking them right now, this is when you put them in some cold water until you’re ready for them.  Before roasting, strain well & tip your roasting veg onto some kitchen paper to dry (because oil & water don’t mix, they spit!).

Spread some olive oil on a baking or roasting tin, put the potato halves in curved side down & then drizzle more olive oil on the top, give them a good sprinkle of the sea salt & black pepper.  If you want to add some chopped Rosemary, sprinkle some on too (go easy with this stuff though, it’s quite strong).  Get your hands in, toss the potatoes in the oil & seasonings, making sure they are well coated & return to their curved side down position, flat side up.

Bake them on the top shelf in a hot oven at 220*C, for about 15 minutes until they are sizzling & golden.  If they have stuck a bit, just use a spatula or tongs (nothing metal though or you’ll damage your tray) & ease them away from the tin.  At this point, turn them over carefully so you don’t splash yourself in hot oil & return to the oven for about 10 minutes or so until crispy, then serve.  If you want to, you can always pop them on some kitchen paper to remove any excess oil, but I find a good shake in a sieve does a pretty good job & it’s not lard, so you’ll be fine.

The parsnips & carrots should be transferred to a warm heatproof dish, then while they’re still hot drizzle with a teaspoon of runny honey to glaze (drizzle, not drown remember) & they’re ready to serve.

Once you’ve got your sides sorted, Christmas Day becomes a doddle – just take them out of the freezer the night before, pop them into an ovenproof dish to defrost & that’s it, prep done!  They can be reheated in the oven while the bird is resting & the veg are roasting. This is also handy when unexpected extras turn up for dinner, because you’ll have a spare pot you can defrost (making you look like the most organised person ever & score major Brownie points!).

By now, you should have a sumptuous selection of sides prepared: mash, three types of roasties, veg for steaming & cauliflower cheese.  However, there are still a couple of things that will finish off the list nicely – starting with a pimped up cranberry sauce.

Not everyone wants to make cranberry sauce from scratch (me included) & not everyone likes it, so do yourself a favour & buy a good quality one that you like, then pimp it up with a few little tweaks.  Simply scoop the whole lot into a small saucepan & break up with a wooden spoon, heating very gently.  Add a shot of Sherry or Port, stirring carefully into the cranberry sauce.  Sprinkle a little orange or lemon zest into the pan, about half a teaspoon, & stir gently for a minute or two.  Pour it into a small dish to cool, then cover & put in the fridge until you’re ready to serve!

And lastly, all you need is a gorgeous homemade gravy!  Everyone loves gravy & at this time of year, you might want to make proper gravy.  It’s actually easier than you think & just needs a little patience!  The best bit is you can make it before & freeze it, or make it on the day in minutes using heated stock you made previously or stock from your roast on the day.  So grab a whisk & a saucepan ….

What you need:

1 pint of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 heaped teaspoons of Gravy Browning (such as Bisto powder)
OR
2 tablespoons Plain Flour & 1oz Butter
A good glug of cold water (about 3 tablespoons)

What to do:

If you’re using fresh, hot stock from your roasted bird, simply ladle off a pint into a jug.  To remove any fat from the stock (that’s the golden bubbles you can see here), get yourself a few sheets of kitchen paper & touch it gently on the top – the grease will attach itself to the paper, which you can then throw away (no faffing around trying to separate it).

If you’re using the gravy browning, measure the powder in another jug (I use Bisto because my Mum uses it, so whatever you like best use that).  You don’t need any seasoning, because there’s plenty in the gravy browning & also in your stock.

Pour in the cold water & mix to form a smooth brown liquid, followed by a quarter of the stock, then tip into your saucepan & heat gently for a few seconds, using the whisk to mix everything thoroughly.

If you’re using the flour & butter method, melt the butter in a pan & sprinkle the flour in to make a thick paste.

Add the rest of the hot stock carefully & keep whisking gently to prevent lumps forming.  The gravy will begin to thicken up nicely now, so dip a spoon in & if it coats the back of the spoon, it’s ready.

Pour into a gravy boat or just a jug & that’s the gravy made!  If you’re making it in advance, let it cool, then pour into a bag or plastic tub, seal & freeze.

So now that your stuffing & some sides are prepared in advance, hopefully it’s taken some pressure off & you can look forward to a fuss-free festive holiday!  Now, get the kettle on, put your feet up with a cuppa & relax!  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s More to Stew Than Just a Pie!

This time of year is one of my favourites, as the last remnants of Summer slowly hand over the baton to the slight chill of September & bring those bright, sunny sharp mornings that you can taste in the air.  The hedgerows are full of dark & glossy, ripe blackberries, vegetables are ready for digging up & the branches of trees are groaning with the weight of their various fruits.

Just as the seasons begin to change, so does our desire for more hearty, substantial meals.  I love going outside early in the morning to collect the tasty treasures from our garden!  As I wander around, so does my mind as I consider what fabulous meals I’m going to make with these wonderful ingredients.  Obviously, we only grow a small amount of fruit & vegetables, so I like to head to the local shops & pick up whatever is in season.  Most people go shopping with a list; I like to just see what’s available, then decide what I can make from that.

Although I like a good pudding as much as everyone else, I absolutely adore a proper stew, made with a few simple ingredients & a lot of patience.  Everything is slowly cooked for a few hours, as the whole house is filled with it’s heady aroma & your stomach dragon starts to gurgle in anticipation of dinnertime!  Growing up, my Mum would make the most amazing stews & halfway through cooking, I would pester her for a cup of the rich gravy to dunk some crusty bread in.  Eventually, she would give in & I would sit on a stool, talking to her & clutching onto my cup as I savoured the steamy, flavourful liquid.

Everyone has their favourite recipes, their own way of doing things, but this is how I cook my Steak, Ale & Mushroom stew.  It is perfect for packing into pies & pasties to warm you up on a chilly Autumn evening, or just eating hot from the pot with a few slices of crusty, buttered bread.  It’s a really easy to make “chuck it all in a pot” kind of meal, very filling & it’s completely faff-free!  This makes two casserole dishes, because why make one when you can make two at the same time?  I can get about six very generous portions from this lot, so it could feed eight (my mini-pie dishes are actually not very mini really, they would feed two).  Freeze what you don’t use, it keeps very well & you can always keep a stash in reserve for evenings when you just don’t fancy cooking.  See further down for pastry recipe link.  Ready? Hands washed & aprons on!

What you need:

500g Stewing Meat – I prefer beef, but you can use whatever you like (adjust which herbs you use accordingly)
2-3 Onions
4 Carrots
2 Parsnips
(you can use whatever root veg you like here – if you don’t like carrots, use something you do like)
12 Baby Potatoes (I usually have a few leftover in the fridge from other meals)
1 punnet of Mushrooms
A handful of fresh Thyme sprigs
Gravy Powder & water (I usually use 6 heaped spoonfuls to a pint & half of cold water per casserole dish)
Freshly ground Black Pepper
25cl Beer (one of those small, dumpy bottles is plenty)

How to do it:

Preheat the oven to 150*C.  Put the grill tray in the bottom of the oven, to catch any spills (if you follow my instructions though, there shouldn’t be any, but it’s best to be prepared).  Move the shelf to the lowest setting in the oven.

You will need two casserole dishes with lids, just the regular sized ones should do.

Divide the meat up equally between the dishes, removing any gristle or excess fat (slight marbling of fat in the meat is fine, because that will cook out & adds flavour, but anything else can be removed).  Use scissors for this – it’s so much easier that chasing a slippery chunk of meat around a chopping board with a sharp knife!

Prepare the vegetables – peel, top & tail the carrots, onions & parsnips.  Dice the onions.  Chop the other veg into bite sized pieces – I usually cut them down the centre lengthways, then again & chop them into pieces.  Share them between the two casserole dishes.

Leave the peel on the potatoes, just wash them.  Cut them the same way as the carrots, quartered lengthways, then chop into bite sized pieces.  Again, share equally between the dishes.

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth to remove any grit or dirt.  If you’re using Chanterelle mushrooms, use a pastry brush instead to flick out any bits of dirt.  Cut into pieces or leave them whole if small enough, then share between each casserole dish.

For each dish, make up a pint of gravy as per the instructions on the packet (I used Bisto Gravy Powder because it was in my cupboard, but it’s your personal choice).  You could use fresh stock here if you prefer, or a stock cube.  I prefer the powder, as it also seasons the stew perfectly – no need to add any salt.

Share the bottle of beer between the dishes.  Stir everything together & make sure the liquid covers everything.  The mushrooms will float for now.  Season with the black pepper to your taste, then stir in.  Add the sprigs of Thyme, just plonk them on the top.

Put the lids on, put the dishes in the oven & forget about them for a couple of hours – it takes about three hours in total for a good stew to cook, as all the lovely ingredients slowly infuse the gravy.

After a couple of hours, take the dishes out of the oven & give them a stir, put the lids back on & bake for another hour.

The stew should be cooked after that, so take the dishes out & give them a stir.  Taste the stew, try not to burn your mouth (we’ve all done it!) & test the meat.  It should melt in the mouth, so if it’s still a bit firm, pop it back in the oven for half an hour to an hour.  I usually cook my stew for about four hours, as it just intensifies the flavour & the meat falls to pieces beautifully.

Once it’s cooked, place the stews on a cooling rack or thick wooden chopping board.  Using a fork & spoon, fish out the Thyme twigs & discard them – the leaves will have gone into the stew.  If you want to thicken your gravy, my tip here is to strain some off from each pot, about half a pint each, then heat it up in a saucepan while stirring.  This thickens it up nicely, without going like treacle.  Then pour it back into each pot, stirring into the meat & veg, before serving in huge bowls with lots of fresh, thick cut bread to mop up the gravy.

If you’re making pies, do this to the gravy just before serving, so it’s ready to pour over the lovely pastry once they are cooked.  Use a nice, rich pastry (see my blog “Spring A Leek” for my pastry recipe: https://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/spring-a-leek/) & decorate it as you like (3.14 is actually pi – it’s a little pi(e) pun I have with my Husband!).  I have also frozen batches of this gravy for Sunday lunches (again, sometimes you just can’t be bothered & lazy lunches really are the best).  Pour the cold gravy into plastic zip bags or tubs, then freeze (double bag it if you’re worried about leaks).

This sumptuous staple will make all kinds of dishes, not just pies or pasties.  Try making a savoury crumble with butter & flour, add a little grated cheese & sprinkle generously on top before baking in a hot oven, or roughly dollop mashed potatoes across the top instead & chuck on some chunky breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan & a little Oregano.  For an elegant evening supper, why not make filo parcels with a spoonful of stew inside, squish the edges up together, brush with melted butter & bake!

So embrace Autumn & all it’s edible treasures, maybe indulging in a big bowl of steamy hot stew, snuggled up on the sofa, with a few slabs of crusty buttered bread & a glass of red wine. Sometimes, the simple stuff is the best.  Stay hungry! 😉 Aimee x